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Iran hunts down anti-hijab activists

Shabnam von Hein
October 7, 2022

Iranian forces are arbitrarily arresting civil society activists, journalists and anyone who protests against the regime in order to rein in the outcry over the death of a young woman who died in police custody.

Mural showing Mahsa Amini and woman cutting off her hair
Women across the world have been cutting off their hair in solidarity with Iranian womenImage: Francois Mori/AP/picture alliance

"The internet is still very slow. I feel cut off from the world;" "VPN connections don't work this time either;" "Messaging services like WhatsApp or Signal are blocked." These kinds of messages are rife in Iran amid escalating anti-hijab protests and people in the Islamic country are reporting extensive internet blockades

Streets in the capital Tehran are quieter during the day. It's a long weekend in the country, but more protests are planned for the coming days. To prevent this from happening, the country's police and security forces are arbitrarily arresting civil society activists and journalists. 

Iranian authorities have been struggling to put an end to the demonstrations that have roiled the country for weeks. The protests against the leadership began following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest by Iran's so-called morality police for allegedly failing to observe the Islamic Republic's strict dress code for women. 

Mass arrests and use of force 

On Wednesday, Iranian police arrested Amir Mirmirani, one of the country's best-known bloggers. For a decade, Mirmirani has been producing a tech podcast, "Jadi." In 2021, it received a national prize for the dissemination of knowledge. 

From an award-winning blogger and podcaster, Mirmirani has become a "public enemy," as his recent podcasts have openly criticized the internet blockades. He is also one of the few tech pros who did not support the government's plans to "nationalize" the internet. Five of these IT experts have been arrested in the past few days as a result. 

Iran's riot police forces stand in a street in Tehran, Iran, October 3, 2022
Iranian authorities have been struggling to put an end to the demonstrations that have roiled the country for weeksImage: Wana News Agency via REUTERS

By nationalizing the internet, Iran's Islamic regime wants to have a tighter grip on the web and restrict public access to Iranian websites. The digital isolation would make it extremely difficult for journalists inside and outside the country to get a clear picture of events happening on the ground and to verify information. 

Photojournalist Yalda Moaiery, who works from Tehran for international media, has also been arrested. According to the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), as of October 4, Iranian authorities had arrested at least 35 journalists. 

Protests spreading far and wide

Authorities have so far detained people from various walks of life, including football players, singers, students, filmmakers and women's rights activists.

"The wave of arrests started in Kurdistan, shortly after Mahsa Amini's funeral," said Asieh Amini, an author and women's rights activist who currently lives in exile in Norway.  

Iran rises up: Can the mullahs be toppled?

She has compiled a list of female activists who have been arrested in the past three weeks. Among those on the list is Bahareh Hedayat, who was detained by authorities on October 3. The 41-year-old has been repeatedly arrested over the past 13 years, following the 2009 anti-government protests in the country. She has served a total of seven years in prison during this period for her peaceful advocacy for greater democracy in Iran. She has not commented publicly on the ongoing demonstrations.

"In my opinion, the security forces are simply arresting all known women activists nationwide. They have not understood that protests like the one we are experiencing now cannot be influenced by old familiar activists," Asieh Amini said. "The young people who take to the streets decide for themselves in smaller groups when and where they will gather. That's why it's also difficult to bring them under control."

According to the newspaper Javan, linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, 90% of protesters are aged under 25. While the publication berated the demonstrators as a new generation of "rioters," the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei labeled the protests a foreign plot to destabilize the country. "The regime is unwilling to understand the people and their anger. Its response is repression," Amini underlined.

This article was originally written in German.